Hot-right-now actress Alia Bhatt is having a dream year, which has included back-to-back hits Kapoor & Sons and Udta Punjab.
Her performances in both films have received critical acclaim and confirmed her position as the princess of Bollywood.
With three more potential blockbusters on the way, with one opposite Shah Rukh Khan, Alia is on top of the world at the moment and enjoying every minute of it.
The in-demand star took time out from an increasingly busy schedule to take a holiday in London recently. Eastern Eye caught up with the rising star at Courthouse Hotel for a free-wheeling conversation about pretty much everything, including life, cinema, passions, ambitions, hopes and more.
Have you had a chance to look back at your incredible whirlwind cinematic journey?
(Smiles) Has it been incredible? I try not to look back or forwards too much.
You seem to be making all the right decisions…
Of course I have people who I rely on, like Karan (Johar), who is basically my mentor, guide and everything. But I think my basic place that I work from is my instinct and my gut, and what that tells me. I go with what my heart tells me! So yes, that’s the basic (of my film choices).
You seem to be jumping in at the deep end with your movie projects. Where does that desire come from?
(Laughs) I think part of it you can perhaps blame on or give credit to the way I have been brought up. Right from the beginning, my father (Mahesh Bhatt) has always been known to jump into the deep end. He has always been known to take risks and do things that are kind of unimaginable maybe in a way. But I think also it is what I desire. I crave it. That is what I am sort of hungry for.
Have you always been fearless?
I have some fear, Asjad. But I don’t let that fear come in my way.
Out of the performances you have done, which has been closest to your heart?
Highway, I think, because that was kind of a coming-of-age for me as a person. Everything changed, including the feelings with that film. Everything was moving and floating, so that’s the closest experience to my heart.
How do you feel about everybody saying Udta Punjab is your career-best performance?
It feels great that people are saying that. I feel really happy. I did work very hard for this film. I knew that if I took this risk, it could go either way. It could be absolutely fantastic or absolutely ridiculous. I am happy it went the fantastic way.
All the critics are calling Udta Punjab the best commercial Bollywood movie of the year so far. When did you guys know it is a special film?
The thing is we really didn’t know how people would react, because it is a controversial subject and it is the truth. The truth is always harder to say, digest and understand. But I think the intention with which this film was made was very genuine and pure. I think because we went with that, we always knew there would be something people would connect with. (Laughs) Of course, we were firstly glad the film released. Then that people reacted to it so well, was wonderful.
What’s been your favourite compliment you received for your performance?
I don’t really compare compliments. I feel very flattered and happy (with the praise). But Amitabh Bachchan sent me a hand-written letter. He did that once for Highway and he did it now for Udta Punjab. For me, it is a very, very big deal when someone like him even sends you a message. But it was a hand-written letter, so it was a great moment.
The expectations around you have now become higher. Is that putting pressure on you?
(Laughs) I try not to think too much about the pressure, because I feel that will come in the way of the choices I make if I am constantly trying to please other people. That is good and I should praise the world, but also if that is the way I work, it will come in the way of my choices. So pressure will be there regardless, but I think for now I will just go with the flow.
Is it becoming difficult for you now because you are probably saying no to a lot of filmmakers?
You never like saying no, but I think honesty towards why you are not doing a film is the most important thing. I feel bad if there’s a film that I want to do, but I can’t because I don’t have dates. That does happen from time to time. So that is when I feel bad, but other than that, I feel it’s only correct (to say no) when an actor is not convinced about playing the part that they want you to play.
I think you are best at doing intense roles, but love seeing you do comedy. Which do you prefer?
I am dying to do more comedy. In fact, I want to do it all! But right now, I’m dying to do a good comedy. I think that will be my next aim, to do an out-and-out, laugh-out-loud funny film.
You said you want to work in Hollywood as well. Is that on the radar?
It has always been. Big, big dreams have always been on my mind. So yeah, I’ve not started acting on it yet, but hopefully soon.
When do you think you will work with your father Mahesh Bhatt?
Of course it will happen. It just has to happen at the right time. So yes, we are in talks right now for one film, which will hopefully happen. (Laughs) Yes, it is Ashiqui 3. Seriously, we are in talks, but nothing is confirmed just yet.
So which confirmed films do you have on the way?
There is Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi, Badrinath Ki Dulhania, and Ayan Mukerji’s Dragon with Ranbir [Kapoor], which starts at the end of the year.
What are you allowed to tell us about them?
All I can say is that Gauri’s film is not a love story, if anybody is wondering if it is. Badrinath Ki Dulhania is not a sequel, it’s part of a franchise – we have a different story with a similar vibe, but with different characters, a different journey and different experiences. Dragon is a supernatural film.
I love how cagey you are…
(Laughs) I love the mystery!
You are very driven, but do you have non-cinema ambitions?
I don’t want to direct a film, but I definitely want to produce one day. I really want to create something, whether it’s an app or movie.
Who has been your favourite leading man you have worked with so far?
That’s easy! My favourite leading man is Shah Rukh Khan, hands down. It’s been absolutely amazing experience working with him. It’s been epic. I can’t wait to do another film with him, just to get that experience again.
Tell us something about you that not many people know.
I am a Game Of Thrones geek! I love London. I am a vegetarian, and the only fish I eat is salmon and sea bass. Oh, and I love avocados.
Today what is your biggest motivation?
It is to do good work. That’s always been the biggest motivation to me. To just do good work and to be magical!
There has been a lot of biopics made recently. If you could play any real-life character, who would it be?
I would love to play Nazia Hassan. She was very young when she passed away. She was a singer and I love to sing too. I think that she was absolutely amazing.
What are your passions when you’re not working?
Coming to London. Having a vacation like I am doing right now.
Do you remember the first time you came here?
Yes, I remember I was 15 years old. Primark had just opened and I went crazy in there!
Your fashion sense is amazing. How much do you like to get involved in your red-carpet fashion choices?
Thank you very much. I have a beautiful team, but I am very specific with my vibe. So is it like, okay, today I want to be ‘sweet’, or I want to look ‘humble’. Or today I wanna look ‘sexy’ or to look ‘pretty but who doesn’t know she’s pretty’.
There is a lot of talk about rivalry between leading ladies?
No, not in my life. There are no rivalries. There is a lot of love and appreciation. I think each to their own. Everybody is really minding their own business and trying to do good work. All the girls inspire me.
Have you got used to the Indian press writing false things about you?
Yeah, I am okay with it. I would rather have people talk about me than not talk about me at all. So it’s fine, talk about me. I won’t say anything.
Would you like to give us a message for your fans?
I just want to say, especially to all the girls, dream big and achieve. I think that’s one of my biggest messages. I am always saying, ‘girls, you all need to achieve because that is what you are made for.’ And thank you so much for giving me so much love. It’s made me very happy.
Finally why do you love cinema?
Because it runs in my blood.